Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Always in Vogue

"It's sad." All day, the shoppers keep coming into All American Vogue, pausing to look at the Fiesta ware, to read the anti-Bush bumperstickers, to finger that '50s jacket they've fingered so many times before, and then to stop before the man standing behind the counter.

The stretch of Broadway that was once known as the "Miracle Mile" has seen many changes over the past thirty years. The Mayan Theatre was saved, but the Webber (and even Kitty's South, which replaced that theater) was lost. Mary and Lou's closed, but Deluxe thrives. The old neighborhood bars and hangouts have been replaced with new neighborhood bars and hangouts. And today, almost miraculously, the point where North and South Broadway meet has become ground zero for the town's coolest clubs and stores, hipster central. But the hippest man in town is closing up shop.

After thirty years of doing business on Broadway, Ronnie Crawford, the unofficial mayor of Miracle Mile, is hanging it up.

Not entirely, of course: Ronnie has more energy than just about anyone else in town, and at 64, he looks younger than the regulars he serves at the Skylark during his thrice-a-week bartending gig. Ronnie plans to keep pouring drinks — and pouring on the charm, since "it's the only place I get to shmooze now," he says — but next month, his combination old-cool/new-school store at 10 South Broadway will close with a last-gasp sale. It will truly be the end of an era.

Of so many eras. The innocent era that Ronnie remembers from his days in Columbus, Ohio, when his mother made a fabulous formal out of old curtains and his father, a Republican conservationist, gave him an early lesson in civic involvement. The protest era: Drafted when he was in college in 1966, Ronnie joined the Army Reserves and did much of his service leading a Boy Scout troop, wearing a short wig over his long, curly hair. The punk era. The rockabilly era. The retro era. And now, another protest era.

Ronnie drove his 1962 Ford Falcon van from Ohio to Denver in 1976, because his ex-wife and son had moved here, and got a job teaching photography at Metro State. But he'd always loved collecting stuff — "the hunt," he calls it — and he soon had enough stuff to open his first shop, Bertha's Dry Goods, right at Arkansas. It was named after a store back in Columbus, where his mother would buy notions and fabrics for the clothes she made, and where Bertha herself taught young Ronnie how to put bubble gum on the end of a stick and snag the money that college kids had dropped down the grate outside the store. Ronnie learned early how to make things stick. He soon changed the name of his store to Rudely Decadent, which better captured the punk scene that was then spilling across Denver, but he stuck to Broadway.

Ronnie kept Rudely going for a decade, then stayed on the Miracle Mile to manage Poparama. In 1992 he started American Aces, a men's store, with fellow collector Russell Enloe ("The Thrifters," October 5, 1994) Thanks to these two, Denver was looking good. Then Ronnie opened a women's store, All American Vogue, in an old beauty parlor — he'll show you where the rows of dryers once stood — and expanded to include men's items and other fabulous stuff after he and Russell split the business. By then, Broadway was beginning to boom, and space was getting expensive for shopkeepers who specialized in making something out of nothing. One day, Russell told Ronnie that he was going to close his shop; a few days later, he passed away ("American Ace," July 13, 2006). And now Ronnie, too, is calling it quits.

High rents are just part of the problem; the Internet is the rest of them. All the people who used to haunt flea markets and estate sales and take their fabulous finds to Ronnie are now selling those finds on eBay instead. "There used to be pickers," Ronnie says. "Now they've turned into sellers." And those new novelty items that Ronnie stocks — the bacon luggage tags, the Bush toilet paper — can be purchased online, too. But as customers cut out the middlemen, they're cutting out the retail shops. "And we're the middlemen," Ronnie points out.

Since he can't beat those savvy web users, he'll be joining them and selling on the Internet, too, working out of his old farmhouse in the Overland neighborhood, the one with all the Falcons (Ronnie was on the board of the American Falcon Club) and cats in the yard and the rooms full of stuff. Which means he'll be taking only the choicest pieces with him. "I do not want to store this stuff," he vows.

And so everything must go, including Ronnie himself. "It's so sad," says one longtime shopper who's ventured into the store, touching a sweater that just won't feel the same way online. "Sad," agree the two teens who gaze at jewelry pieces old and new while they wait for a mom to pick them up. "Sad," says the hipster reading the political buttons that onetime Republican Ronnie proudly stocks.

Ronnie's conversation, like his customers, spans decades. He overflows with stories about Broadway. About how Eisenhower used to take his waders to a cobbler just up the street when Ike was president and Denver was the summer White House. About how, when Rudely was barely scraping by, he'd scrounge up five bucks a month to help support Pirate, the arts cooperative. About how the amazingly trendy Goodwill store that opened across the street this fall was once a JC Penney. About how the mayor recently took a delegation of Democrats over to the Skylark, and Ronnie got to explain to John Hickenlooper the anti-Bush initials "FGWB" on the marquee. About the legendary rockabilly parties, and Russell. About fads come and gone, friends old and new.

Sure, it's sad, but when you specialize in peddling the past, the end of an era just signals the start of a new one.

Take a look at what's got to go in the last days of All American Vogue with this slide show.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun